Acoustic ecology

Acoustic ecology, sometimes called ecoacoustics or soundscape studies, is a discipline studying the relationship, mediated through sound, between human beings and their environment.[1] Acoustic ecology studies started in the late 1960s with R. Murray Schafer and his team at Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) as part of the World Soundscape Project. The original WSP team included Barry Truax and Hildegard Westerkamp, Bruce Davies and Peter Huse, among others. The first study produced by the WSP was titled The Vancouver Soundscape. The interest in this area grew enormously after this pioneer and innovative study and the area of acoustic ecology raised the interest of researchers and artists all over the world. In 1993, the members of the by now large and active international acoustic ecology community formed the World Forum of Acoustic Ecology.[2]

Every three years since the WFAE's founding at Banff, Canada in 1993, an international symposium has taken place. Stockholm, Amsterdam, Devon, Peterborough, and Melbourne followed. In November 2006, the WFAE meeting took place in Hirosaki, Japan.[3] Koli, Finland, was the meeting place of the latest WFAE world conference.

From its roots in the sonic sociology and radio art of Schafer and his colleagues, acoustic ecology has found expression in many different fields. While most have taken some inspiration from Schafer's writings, in recent years there have also been healthy divergences from the initial ideas. Among the expanded expressions of acoustic ecology are increasing attention to the sonic impacts of road and airport construction, widespread networks of "phonographers" exploring the world through sound,[4] the broadening of bioacoustics (the use of sound by animals) to consider the subjective and objective responses of animals to human noise, including increasing use of the idea of "acoustic ecology" in the literature, and a popular in the effects of human noise on animals, with ocean noise capturing the most attention. Acoustic ecology finds expression in many different fields, including niches as unique as historical soundscapes and psychosonography.[5][6]


Noise is generally a by-product of increased urbanization and development. Noise can alter the acoustic environment of aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Bird diversity has shown to decline because of chronic noise levels in cities and along roadways. Some species such as the urban great tits have changed the frequency of their calls to adapt. In terms of evolution, man-made noise is a much more recent phenomenon. Scientific research has shown that it has potential to change behavior, alter physiology and even restructure animal communities. [7]

List of compositional works

"Dominion" by Barry Truax

"Dominion" takes listeners on an acoustic journey across Canada. The work begins with the firing of the Noon Gun in St. John's harbour in Newfoundland and continues westward, recording sounds such as the Peace Tower bell in Ottawa and the O Canada Horn in Vancouver, along the way. A 12-piece orchestra, representing the 10 provinces and then two territories, carries listeners through the work, along with the whistle of a Canadian Pacific Railway train, representing the railroad that first connected Canada over a century ago.[8]

Acoustic Ecological Archeology

Marc E. Moglen (2007) recreated pre-historical Soundscapes (Acoustic Ecology) at University of California, Berkeley's Department of Anthropology, combining compositional techniques with site recordings for a non-diegetic piece in the virtual world of Second Life, on "Okapi Island". At the Center for New Media the acoustic ecological setting of the former jazz scene in Oakland, CA was developed for a virtual world setting.

"Soundmarks of Canada" by Peter Huse

"A composition recreating the acoustic profile of community sounds unique to Canadian locales, coast to coast". Source: Soundscapes of Canada.

See also


  1. ^ Wrightson, Kendall. "An Introduction to Acoustic Ecology" (PDF). WFAE. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 April 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2014.
  2. ^ "World Forum for Acoustic Ecology". Archived from the original on 11 December 2008. Retrieved 17 December 2008.
  3. ^ "World Forum for Acoustic Ecology 2006, in Hirosaki, Aomori, Japan". November 2006. Archived from the original on 6 October 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-17.
  4. ^ "". Archived from the original on 20 December 2008. Retrieved 17 December 2008.
  5. ^ Lee, John, David Hicks, Danah Henriksen, Punya Mishra, William Cain, Chris Fahnoe, Jon Good, Sarah Keenan, Rohit Mehta, Carmen Richardson, and Colin Terry. "Historical Soundscapes for Creative Synthesis." TechTrends 59, no. 5 (2015): 4-8. Retrieved 2016-08-23.
  6. ^ Iosafat, Dani. "On Sonification of Place: Psychosonography and Urban Portrait" Organised Sound 14, no. 1 (2009): 47-55. Retrieved 2016-08-25.
  7. ^ Shannon, Graeme (17 December 2015). "How noise pollution is changing animal behaviour". The Conversation. Retrieved 28 May 2018.
  8. ^ "Science of Sound", Canadian Geographic Online'


  • Marcello Sorce Keller, “The Windmills of my Mind – Musings about Haydn, Kant, Sonic Ecology, and Hygiene”, in Gisa Jähnichen and Chinthaka Meddegoda (eds.), Music – Dance and Environment. Serdang: Universiti Putra Malaysia Press, 2013, 1–31.

External links

Acoustical oceanography

Acoustical oceanography is the use of underwater sound to study the sea, its boundaries and its contents.


Benthos is the community of organisms that live on, in, or near the seabed, river, lake, or stream bottom, also known as the benthic zone. This community lives in or near marine or freshwater sedimentary environments, from tidal pools along the foreshore, out to the continental shelf, and then down to the abyssal depths.

Many organisms adapted to deep-water pressure cannot survive in the upperparts of the water column. The pressure difference can be very significant (approximately one atmosphere for each 10 metres of water depth).Because light is absorbed before it can reach deep ocean-water, the energy source for deep benthic ecosystems is often organic matter from higher up in the water column that drifts down to the depths. This dead and decaying matter sustains the benthic food chain; most organisms in the benthic zone are scavengers or detritivores.

The term benthos, coined by Haeckel in 1891, comes from the Greek noun βένθος "depth of the sea". Benthos is used in freshwater biology to refer to organisms at the bottom of freshwater bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers, and streams. There is also a redundant synonym, benthon.


Biophony (also known as the niche hypothesis) consists of the Greek prefix, bio, meaning life, and the suffix, phon, meaning sound. It specifically refers to the collective sound that vocalizing animals create in each given environment. The term, which refers to one of three components of the soundscape (the others include geophony [non-biological natural sound] and anthropophony [human-induced noise]), was coined by Dr. Bernie Krause. The interrelationship of disciplines informed by natural soundscapes is called soundscape ecology, a further refinement of the older model and term, acoustic ecology.

The study of biophony focuses on the collective impact of all sounds emanating from natural biological origins in a given habitat. The realm of study is focused on the intricate relationships – competitive and/or cooperative – generally between non-human biological sound sources taking into account seasonal variability, weather, and time of day or night, and climate change. It explores new definitions of animal territory as defined by biophony, and addresses changes in density, diversity, and richness of animal populations.

The complete absence of biophony or geophony in a given biome would be expressed as dysphonia (from the Greek meaning the inability to produce a proper collective voice in this case).

The "niche hypothesis", an early version of the term, biophony, describes the acoustic bandwidth partitioning process that occurs in still-wild biomes by which non-human organisms adjust their vocalizations by frequency and time-shifting to compensate for vocal territory occupied by other vocal creatures. Thus each species evolves to establish and maintain its own acoustic bandwidth so that its voice is not masked. For instance, notable examples of clear partitioning and species discrimination can be found in the spectrograms derived from the biophonic recordings made in most uncompromised tropical and subtropical rain forests.

Cor Fuhler

Cor Fuhler (born 1964 in Barger-Oosterveld, Drenthe, Netherlands) is a Dutch/Australian improvisor, composer, and instrument builder associated with free jazz, experimental music and acoustic ecology. He plays piano by manipulating sound with electromagnetic string stimulators like ebows and motorized actuators. Fuhler also performs on guitar, turntables and synthesizer. He invented the keyolin, a combination of keyboard and violin.

Fuhler was a student of Misha Mengelberg of the Instant Composers Pool. He recorded the album Corkestra (Data, 2005)

with Ab Baars, Tony Buck, Tobias Delius, Wilbert de Joode, Anne La Berge, Andy Moor, Nora Mulder, and Michael Vatcher. Fuhler plays prepared piano, analog keyboards, clavinet, melodica, and electric lamellophone. Fuhler plays solo prepared piano on his album Stengam (Potlatch, 2007).

In 2017 he published his book Disperse and Display covering modular composing strategies and extended piano techniques.

Educational trail

An educational trail (or sometimes educational path), nature trail or nature walk is a specially developed hiking trail or footpath that runs through the countryside, along which there are marked stations or stops next to points of natural, technological or cultural interest. These may convey information about, for example, flora and fauna, soil science, geology, mining, ecology or cultural history. Longer trails, that link more widely spaced natural phenomena or structures together, may be referred to as themed trails or paths.

In order to give a clearer explanation of the objects located at each station, display boards or other exhibits are usually erected, in keeping with the purpose of the trail. These may include: information boards, photographs and pictures, maps or plans, display cases and models, slides, sound or multimedia devices, facilities to enable experimentation and so on. The routes are regularly maintained.

Educational trails with a strong thematic content may also be called "theme paths", "theme trails" or "theme routes", or may be specially named after their subject matter, for example the Welsh Mountain Zoo Trail, Anglezarke Woodland Trail, Cheshire Lines Railway Path, Great Harwood Nature Trail, Irwell Sculpture Trail, Salthill Quarry Geology Trail and Wildlife Conservation Trail.

The purpose of such trails is to increase knowledge, sometimes this is linked to tourism and recreation or the raising of environmental awareness. Often, the stations provide imaginative and interactive ways to experience nature. Occasionally, guided tours with expert guides are available.

Gaussian noise

Gaussian noise, named after Carl Friedrich Gauss, is statistical noise having a probability density function (PDF) equal to that of the normal distribution, which is also known as the Gaussian distribution. In other words, the values that the noise can take on are Gaussian-distributed.

The probability density function of a Gaussian random variable is given by:

where represents the grey level, the mean value and the standard deviation.

A special case is white Gaussian noise, in which the values at any pair of times are identically distributed and statistically independent (and hence uncorrelated). In communication channel testing and modelling, Gaussian noise is used as additive white noise to generate additive white Gaussian noise.

In telecommunications and computer networking, communication channels can be affected by wideband Gaussian noise coming from many natural sources, such as the thermal vibrations of atoms in conductors (referred to as thermal noise or Johnson–Nyquist noise), shot noise, black-body radiation from the earth and other warm objects, and from celestial sources such as the Sun.

Principal sources of Gaussian noise in digital images arise during acquisition e.g. sensor noise caused by poor illumination and/or high temperature, and/or transmission e.g. electronic circuit noise. In digital image processing Gaussian noise can be reduced using a spatial filter, though when smoothing an image, an undesirable outcome may result in the blurring of fine-scaled image edges and details because they also correspond to blocked high frequencies. Conventional spatial filtering techniques for noise removal include: mean (convolution) filtering, median filtering and Gaussian smoothing.

Hildegard Westerkamp

Hildegard Westerkamp (born April 8, 1946, in Osnabrück, Germany) is a Canadian composer, radio artist, teacher and sound ecologist of German origin. She studied flute and piano at the Conservatory of Music in Freiburg, West Germany from 1966 - 1968 and moved to Canada in 1975. She received a Bachelor of Music from the University of British Columbia in 1972 and a Masters in Arts from Simon Fraser University in 1988. She taught acoustic communication at Simon Fraser University from 1982 - 1991.


Hydroacoustics is the study and application of sound in water. Hydroacoustics, using sonar technology, is most commonly used for monitoring of underwater physical and biological characteristics.

Hydroacoustics can be used to detect the depth of a water body (bathymetry), as well as the presence or absence, abundance, distribution, size, and behavior of underwater plants and animals. Hydroacoustic sensing involves "passive acoustics" (listening for sounds) or active acoustics making a sound and listening for the echo, hence the common name for the device, echo sounder or echosounder.

There are a number of different causes of noise from shipping. These can be subdivided into those caused by the propeller, those caused by machinery, and those caused by the movement of the hull through the water. The relative importance of these three different categories will depend, amongst other things, on the ship type

One of the main causes of hydro acoustic noise from fully submerged lifting surfaces is the unsteady separated turbulent flow near the surface's trailing edge that produces pressure fluctuations on the surface and unsteady oscillatory flow in the near wake.The relative motion between the surface and the ocean creates a turbulent boundary layer (TBL) that surrounds the surface. The noise is generated by the fluctuating velocity and pressure fields within this TBL.

Leah Barclay

Leah Barclay is an Australian sound artist, composer and researcher known for acoustic ecology, environmental field recording, sound walks. She is the president of the Australian Forum for Acoustic Ecology, and is currently a research fellow at the Queensland Conservatorium Research Centre. She is a multi-talented sound artist, sound activist and composer, raising environmental awareness through sound.Leah Barclay organised the Sonic Environments Conference in 2016 hosted by The Queensland Conservatorium of Music in Brisbane, Australia.

Leah Barclay was part of the 100 Ways to Listen component of the World Science Festival 2017, where she ran Augmented Reality Soundwalks. Numerous sound artists and electronic musicians from the Queensland Conservatorium performed and did demonstrations as part of the 100 Ways to Listen component of the World Science Festival 2017.Barclay primarily explores Biosphere Soundscapes and River Listening and raises environmental awareness utilising field recordings of endangered ecosystems as a form of acoustic ecology in her compositions and sound walks.Leah Barclay organised the 100 Ways to Listen along with other prominent sound artists, performers and researchers, including Vanessa Tomlinson, John Ferguson and Erik Griswald, creating sonic playgrounds and installations for 100 Ways to Listen in 2017, along with student led demonstrations and performances from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music Technology department.

List of sound artists

This is a list of sound artists. Sound art is a diverse group of art practices that considers wide notions of sound, listening and hearing as its predominant focus. There is contention as to which artists are “sound artists” or if another category might be more accurate such as experimental music, electronic music, sound installation, circuit bending, sound sculpture, builder of experimental musical instruments, noise music, acoustic ecology, sound poetry, installation art, performance art or Fluxus.The category “sound art” is relatively new and it is difficult to justify excluding any artist who uses sound (as opposed to standard definitions of music) and listening as a significant element in their art from this field. Whether or not an artist has achieved sufficient renown is difficult as accolades are seldom in the area of sound art, but in other categories (visual art, music, design, etc.).

Published material on sound art is sparse. Scottish artist Susan Philipsz's 2010 British Turner Prize win for her piece 'Lowlands' was the first time a work of sound art won this prize and highlighted the genre's blurred boundaries with other, more visual artforms.

Particle (ecology)

In marine and freshwater ecology, a particle is a small object. Particles can remain in suspension in the ocean or freshwater. However, they eventually settle (rate determined by Stokes' law) and accumulate as sediment. Some can enter the atmosphere through wave action where they can act as cloud condensation nuclei (CCN). Many organisms filter particles out of the water with unique filtration mechanisms (filter feeders). Particles are often associated with high loads of toxins which attach to the surface. As these toxins are passed up the food chain they accumulate in fatty tissue and become increasingly concentrated in predators (see bioaccumulation). Very little is known about the dynamics of particles, especially when they are re-suspended by dredging. They can remain floating in the water and drift over long distances. The decomposition of some particles by bacteria consumes a lot of oxygen and can cause the water to become hypoxic.

R. Murray Schafer

Raymond Murray Schafer (born 18 July 1933) is a Canadian composer, writer, music educator and environmentalist perhaps best known for his World Soundscape Project, concern for acoustic ecology, and his book The Tuning of the World (1977). He was notably the first recipient of the Jules Léger Prize in 1978.

Sculpture trail

A sculpture trail - also known as "a culture walk" or "art trail" - is a walkway through open-air galleries of outdoor sculptures along a defined route with sequenced viewings encountered from planned preview and principal sight lines.

Sofar bomb

In oceanography, a sofar bomb (Sound Fixing And Ranging bomb), occasionally referred to as a sofar disc, is a long-range position-fixing system that uses impulsive sounds in the deep sound channel of the ocean to enable pinpointing of the location of ships or crashed planes. The deep sound channel is ideal for the device, as the minimum speed of sound at that depth improves the signal's traveling ability. A position is determined from the differences in arrival times at receiving stations of known geographic locations. The useful range from the signal sources to the receiver can exceed 3,000 miles (4,800 km).

Sound map

Sound maps are digital geographical maps that put emphasis on the sonic representation of a specific location. Sound maps are created by associating landmarks (streets in a city, train stations, stores, pathways, factories, oil pumps, etc.) and soundscapes.

The term “soundscape” refers to the sonic environment of a specific locale. It may also refer to actual environments, or to abstract constructions such as musical compositions and tape montages, particularly when considered as an artificial environment. The objective of sound maps is to represent a specific environment using its soundscape as primary references as opposed to visual cues. Sound maps are in many ways the most effective auditory archive of an environment. Sound maps are similar to sound walks which are a form of active participation in the soundscape. Soundwalks and indeed, sound maps encourage the participants to listen discriminatively, and moreover, to make critical judgments about the sounds heard and their contribution to the balance or imbalance of the sonic environment. However, soundwalks will plot out a route for the user to follow and give guidance as to what the user may be hearing at each checkpoint. Sound maps, on the other hand, have specific soundscapes recorded that users can listen to at each checkpoint.


A soundscape is the acoustic environment as perceived by humans, in context. The term was originally coined by Michael Southworth, and popularised by R. Murray Schafer. There is a varied history of the use of soundscape depending on discipline, ranging from urban design to wildlife ecology to computer science. An important distinction is to separate soundscape from the broader acoustic environment. The acoustic environment is the combination of all the acoustic resources, natural and artificial, within a given area as modified by the environment. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standardized these definitions in 2014.(ISO 12913-1:2014)

A soundscape is a sound or combination of sounds that forms or arises from an immersive environment. The study of soundscape is the subject of acoustic ecology or soundscape ecology. The idea of soundscape refers to both the natural acoustic environment, consisting of natural sounds, including animal vocalizations, the collective habitat expression of which is now referred to as the biophony, and, for instance, the sounds of weather and other natural elements, now referred to as the geophony; and environmental sounds created by humans, the anthropophony through a sub-set called controlled sound, such as musical composition, sound design, and language, work, and sounds of mechanical origin resulting from use of industrial technology. Crucially, the term soundscape also includes the listener's perception of sounds heard as an environment: "how that environment is understood by those living within it" and therefore mediates their relations. The disruption of these acoustic environments results in noise pollution.The term "soundscape" can also refer to an audio recording or performance of sounds that create the sensation of experiencing a particular acoustic environment, or compositions created using the found sounds of an acoustic environment, either exclusively or in conjunction with musical performances.Pauline Oliveros, composer of post-World War II electronic art music, defined the term "soundscape" as "All of the waveforms faithfully transmitted to our audio cortex by the ear and its mechanisms".

Soundscape ecology

Soundscape ecology is the study of the acoustic relationships between living organisms, human and other, and their environment, whether the organisms are marine or terrestrial. First appearing in the Handbook for Acoustic Ecology edited by Barry Truax, in 1978, the term has occasionally been used, sometimes interchangeably, with the term acoustic ecology. Soundscape ecologists also study the relationships between the three basic sources of sound that comprise the soundscape: those generated by organisms are referred to as the biophony; those from non-biological natural categories are classified as the geophony, and those produced by humans, the anthropophony. Increasingly, soundscapes are dominated by a sub-set of anthropophony (sometimes referred to in older, more archaic terminology as "anthropogenic noise"), or technophony, the overwhelming presence of electro-mechanical noise. This sub-class of noise pollution or disturbance may produce a negative effect on a wide range of organisms. Variations in soundscapes as a result of natural phenomena and/or human endeavor may have wide-ranging ecological effects as many organisms have evolved to respond to acoustic cues that emanate primarily from undisturbed habitats. Soundscape ecologists use recording devices, audio tools, and elements of traditional ecological and acoustic analyses to study soundscape structure. Soundscape ecology has deepened current understandings of ecological issues and established profound visceral connections to ecological data. The preservation of natural soundscapes is now a recognized conservation goal.

Themed walk

A themed walk is a walk along which there are information boards covering a specific topic or theme, such as regional history, industrial history, mining or forestry. Features of nature (e.g. raised bogs or biotopes) or of geology are often laid out as special educational paths. Municipal authorities or local societies are usually responsible for their establishment and maintenance.

The paths are usually several kilometres long and are used both for educational purposes and recreation. They may connect places, buildings or natural features that have a particular theme in common by a signed route, but may also have specifically positioned exhibits.

Whilst themed walks are often designed to encourage walking, educational paths and nature trail tend to be aimed more at educating or training.

In Austria there are more than 300 themed walks. These paths are intended to give summer tourism in the Alps a new impulse, but are also helping to improve the network of footpaths.

World Soundscape Project

The World Soundscape Project (WSP) is an international research project founded by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer in the late 1960s at Simon Fraser University. The project initiated the modern study of acoustic ecology. Its ultimate goal is "to find solutions for an ecologically balanced soundscape where the relationship between the human community and its sonic environment is in harmony." The practical manifestations of this goal include education about the soundscape and noise pollution, in addition to the recording and cataloguing of international soundscapes with a focus on preservation of soundmarks and dying sounds and sound environments.

Publications which emerged from the project include The Book of Noise (1968) and The Tuning of the World (1977), both by Schafer, as well as the Handbook for Acoustic Ecology (1978) by Barry Truax. The project has thus far resulted in two major tours, in Canada and Europe, the results of which comprise the World Soundscape Library.

Notable members included Howard Broomfield, Bruce Davis, Peter Huse, Barry Truax and Hildegard Westerkamp.

Ocean acoustics
Acoustic ecology
Related topics
Aquatic ecosystems

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